Certiorari To The United States Court Of Criminal Appeals Of Texas

No. 18-9674. Decided June 15, 2020

Per Curiam.

 Death-sentenced petitioner Terence Andrus was six years old when his mother began selling drugs out of the apartment where Andrus and his four siblings lived. To fund a spiraling drug addiction, Andrus’ mother also turned to prostitution. By the time Andrus was 12, his mother regularly spent entire weekends, at times weeks, away from her five children to binge on drugs. When she did spend time around her children, she often was high and brought with her a revolving door of drug-addicted, sometimes physically violent, boyfriends. Before he reached adolescence, Andrus took on the role of caretaker for his four siblings.

 When Andrus was 16, he allegedly served as a lookout while his friends robbed a woman. He was sent to a juvenile detention facility where, for 18 months, he was steeped in gang culture, dosed on high quantities of psychotropic drugs, and frequently relegated to extended stints of solitary confinement. The ordeal left an already traumatized Andrus all but suicidal. Those suicidal urges resurfaced later in Andrus’ adult life.

 During Andrus’ capital trial, however, nearly none of this mitigating evidence reached the jury. That is because Andrus’ defense counsel not only neglected to present it; he failed even to look for it. Indeed, counsel performed virtually no investigation of the relevant evidence. Those failures also fettered the defense’s capacity to contextualize or counter the State’s evidence of Andrus’ alleged incidences of past violence.

 Only years later, during an 8-day evidentiary hearing in Andrus’ state habeas proceeding, did the grim facts of Andrus’ life history come to light. And when pressed at the hearing to provide his reasons for failing to investigate Andrus’ history, Andrus’ counsel offered none.

 The Texas trial court that heard the evidence recommended that Andrus be granted habeas relief and receive a new sentencing proceeding. The court found the abundant mitigating evidence so compelling, and so readily available, that counsel’s failure to investigate it was constitutionally deficient performance that prejudiced Andrus during the punishment phase of his trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed. It concluded without explanation that Andrus had failed to satisfy his burden of showing ineffective assistance under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 (1984).

 We conclude that the record makes clear that Andrus has demonstrated counsel’s deficient performance under Strickland, but that the Court of Criminal Appeals may have failed properly to engage with the follow-on question whether Andrus has shown that counsel’s deficient performance prejudiced him. We thus grant Andrus’ petition for a writ of certiorari, vacate the judgment of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and remand the case for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit

No. 17-1618. Argued October 8, 2019--Decided June 15, 2020 1

In each of these cases, an employer allegedly fired a long-time employee simply for being homosexual or transgender. Clayton County, Georgia, fired Gerald Bostock for conduct “unbecoming” a county employee shortly after he began participating in a gay recreational softball league. Altitude Express fired Donald Zarda days after he mentioned being gay. And R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes fired Aimee Stephens, who presented as a male when she was hired, after she informed her employer that she planned to “live and work full-time as a woman.” Each employee sued, alleging sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Eleventh Circuit held that Title VII does not prohibit employers from firing employees for being gay and so Mr. Bostock’s suit could be dismissed as a matter of law. The Second and Sixth Circuits, however, allowed the claims of Mr. Zarda and Ms. Stephens, respectively, to proceed.

Held: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII. Pp. 4–33.

 (a) Title VII makes it “unlawful . . . for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)(1). The straightforward application of Title VII’s terms interpreted in accord with their ordinary public meaning at the time of their enactment resolves these cases. Pp. 4–12.

  (1) The parties concede that the term “sex” in 1964 referred to the biological distinctions between male and female. And “the ordinary meaning of ‘because of’ is ‘by reason of’ or ‘on account of,’ ” University of Tex. Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U. S. 338, 350. That term incorporates the but-for causation standard, id., at 346, 360, which, for Title VII, means that a defendant cannot avoid liability just by citing some other factor that contributed to its challenged employment action. The term “discriminate” meant “[t]o make a difference in treatment or favor (of one as compared with others).” Webster’s New International Dictionary 745. In so-called “disparate treatment” cases, this Court has held that the difference in treatment based on sex must be intentional. See, e.g., Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust, 487 U. S. 977, 986. And the statute’s repeated use of the term “individual” means that the focus is on “[a] particular being as distinguished from a class.” Webster’s New International Dictionary, at 1267. Pp. 4–9.

  (2) These terms generate the following rule: An employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based in part on sex. It makes no difference if other factors besides the plaintiff’s sex contributed to the decision or that the employer treated women as a group the same when compared to men as a group. A statutory violation occurs if an employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee. Because discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalizes an employee for being homosexual or transgender also violates Title VII. There is no escaping the role intent plays: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decisionmaking. Pp. 9–12.

 (b) Three leading precedents confirm what the statute’s plain terms suggest. In Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp., 400 U. S. 542, a company was held to have violated Title VII by refusing to hire women with young children, despite the fact that the discrimination also depended on being a parent of young children and the fact that the company favored hiring women over men. In Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power v. Manhart, 435 U. S. 702, an employer’s policy of requiring women to make larger pension fund contributions than men because women tend to live longer was held to violate Title VII, notwithstanding the policy’s evenhandedness between men and women as groups. And in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 523 U. S. 75, a male plaintiff alleged a triable Title VII claim for sexual harassment by co-workers who were members of the same sex.

 The lessons these cases hold are instructive here. First, it is irrelevant what an employer might call its discriminatory practice, how others might label it, or what else might motivate it. In Manhart, the employer might have called its rule a “life expectancy” adjustment, and in Phillips, the employer could have accurately spoken of its policy as one based on “motherhood.” But such labels and additional intentions or motivations did not make a difference there, and they cannot make a difference here. When an employer fires an employee for being homosexual or transgender, it necessarily intentionally discriminates against that individual in part because of sex. Second, the plaintiff’s sex need not be the sole or primary cause of the employer’s adverse action. In Phillips, Manhart, and Oncale, the employer easily could have pointed to some other, nonprotected trait and insisted it was the more important factor in the adverse employment outcome. Here, too, it is of no significance if another factor, such as the plaintiff’s attraction to the same sex or presentation as a different sex from the one assigned at birth, might also be at work, or even play a more important role in the employer’s decision. Finally, an employer cannot escape liability by demonstrating that it treats males and females comparably as groups. Manhart is instructive here. An employer who intentionally fires an individual homosexual or transgender employee in part because of that individual’s sex violates the law even if the employer is willing to subject all male and female homosexual or transgender employees to the same rule. Pp. 12–15.

 (c) The employers do not dispute that they fired their employees for being homosexual or transgender. Rather, they contend that even intentional discrimination against employees based on their homosexual or transgender status is not a basis for Title VII liability. But their statutory text arguments have already been rejected by this Court’s precedents. And none of their other contentions about what they think the law was meant to do, or should do, allow for ignoring the law as it is. Pp. 15–33.

  (1) The employers assert that it should make a difference that plaintiffs would likely respond in conversation that they were fired for being gay or transgender and not because of sex. But conversational conventions do not control Title VII’s legal analysis, which asks simply whether sex is a but-for cause. Nor is it a defense to insist that intentional discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status is not intentional discrimination based on sex. An employer who discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees necessarily and intentionally applies sex-based rules. Nor does it make a difference that an employer could refuse to hire a gay or transgender individual without learning that person’s sex. By intentionally setting out a rule that makes hiring turn on sex, the employer violates the law, whatever he might know or not know about individual applicants. The employers also stress that homosexuality and transgender status are distinct concepts from sex, and that if Congress wanted to address these matters in Title VII, it would have referenced them specifically. But when Congress chooses not to include any exceptions to a broad rule, this Court applies the broad rule. Finally, the employers suggest that because the policies at issue have the same adverse consequences for men and women, a stricter causation test should apply. That argument unavoidably comes down to a suggestion that sex must be the sole or primary cause of an adverse employment action under Title VII, a suggestion at odds with the statute. Pp. 16–23.

  (2) The employers contend that few in 1964 would have expected Title VII to apply to discrimination against homosexual and transgender persons. But legislative history has no bearing here, where no ambiguity exists about how Title VII’s terms apply to the facts. See Milner v. Department of Navy, 562 U. S. 562, 574. While it is possible that a statutory term that means one thing today or in one context might have meant something else at the time of its adoption or might mean something different in another context, the employers do not seek to use historical sources to illustrate that the meaning of any of Title VII’s language has changed since 1964 or that the statute’s terms ordinarily carried some missed message. Instead, they seem to say when a new application is both unexpected and important, even if it is clearly commanded by existing law, the Court should merely point out the question, refer the subject back to Congress, and decline to enforce the law’s plain terms in the meantime. This Court has long rejected that sort of reasoning. And the employers’ new framing may only add new problems and leave the Court with more than a little law to overturn. Finally, the employers turn to naked policy appeals, suggesting that the Court proceed without the law’s guidance to do what it thinks best. That is an invitation that no court should ever take up. Pp. 23–33.

No. 17–1618, 723 Fed. Appx. 964, reversed and remanded; No. 17–1623, 883 F. 3d 100, and No. 18–107, 884 F. 3d 560, affirmed.

 Gorsuch, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined. Kavanaugh, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

1 Together with No. 17–1623, Altitude Express, Inc., et al. v. Zarda et al., as Co-Independent Executors of the Estate of Zarda, on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and No. 18–107, R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al., on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

United States Forest Service et al. v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association et al.

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Fourth Circuit

No. 18-1584. Argued February 24, 2020--Decided June 15, 20201

Petitioner Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (Atlantic), sought to construct an approximately 604-mile natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina along a route that traversed 16 miles of land within the George Washington National Forest. As relevant here, Atlantic secured a special use permit from the United States Forest Service, obtaining a right-of-way for a 0.1-mile segment of pipe some 600 feet below a portion of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Appalachian Trail or Trail), which also crosses the National Forest. Respondents filed a petition for review in the Fourth Circuit, contending, inter alia, that the issuance of the special use permit for the right-of-way under the Trail violated the Mineral Leasing Act (Leasing Act). Atlantic intervened. The Fourth Circuit vacated the permit, holding that the Leasing Act did not empower the Forest Service to grant the right-of-way because the Trail became part of the National Park System when the Secretary of the Interior delegated its authority over the Trail’s administration to the National Park Service, and that the Leasing Act prohibits pipeline rights-of-way through lands in the National Park System.

Held: Because the Department of the Interior’s decision to assign responsibility over the Appalachian Trail to the National Park Service did not transform the land over which the Trail passes into land within the National Park System, the Forest Service had the authority to issue the special use permit. Pp. 3–18.

  (a) These cases involve the interaction of multiple federal laws. The Weeks Act provided for the acquisition of lands for inclusion in the National Forest System, stating that such lands “shall be permanently reserved, held, and administered as national forest lands.” 16 U. S. C. §521. The Forest Service, with authority granted by the Secretary of Agriculture, has jurisdiction over the National Forest System, including the George Washington National Forest. The National Trails System Act (Trails Act) establishes national scenic and national historic trails, 16 U. S. C. §1244(a), including the Appalachian Trail, §1244(a)(1). It also empowers the Secretary of the Interior to establish the Trail’s location and width by entering into “rights-of-way” agreements with other federal agencies, States, local governments, and private landowners. §§1246(a)(2), (d), (e). The Leasing Act enables any “appropriate agency head” to grant “[r]ights-of-way through any Federal lands . . . for pipeline purposes,” 30 U. S. C. §185(a), defining “Federal lands” as “all lands owned by the United States,” except (as relevant) lands in the National Park System, §185(b). The National Park System is, in turn, defined as “any area of land and water now and hereafter administered by the Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway, recreational, or other purposes.” 54 U. S. C. §100501. Pp. 3–5.

  (b) An examination of the interests and authority granted under the Trails Act shows that the Forest Service “right-of-way” agreements with the National Park Service for the Appalachian Trail did not convert “Federal lands” under the Leasing Act into “lands” within the “National Park System.” Pp. 5–13.

   (1) A right-of-way is a type of easement. And easements grant only nonpossessory rights of use limited to the purposes specified in the easement agreement: They are not land; they merely burden land that continues to be owned by another. The same principles that apply to right-of-way agreements between private parties apply here, even though the Federal Government owns all lands involved. A right-of-way between two agencies grants only an easement across the land, not jurisdiction over the land itself. Read in light of basic property law principles, then, the plain language of the Trails Act and the agreement between the two agencies did not divest the Forest Service of jurisdiction over the lands crossed by the Trail. Pp. 7–10.

   (2) The various duties described in the Trails Act—that the Secretary of the Interior (through the National Park Service) administers the Trail “primarily as a footpath,” 16 U. S. C. §1244(a)(1); can designate Trail uses, provide Trail markers, and establish interpretative and informational sites, §1246(c); and can regulate the Trail’s “protection, management, development, and administration,” §1246(i)—reinforce the conclusion that the agency responsible for the Trail has the limited role of administering a trail easement, but that the underlying land remains within the Forest Service’s jurisdiction. Pp. 10–11.

   (3) This conclusion is also reinforced by the fact that Congress spoke in terms of rights-of-way in the Trails Act rather than in terms of land transfers, as it has unequivocally and directly done in multiple other statutes when it has intended to transfer land from one agency to another. See, e.g., Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, 16 U. S. C. §1281(c). Pp. 12–13.

  (c) Respondents’ theory—that the National Park Service administers the Trail, and therefore the lands that the Trail crosses—depends on presuming, with no clear congressional command, a vast expansion of the Park Service’s jurisdiction and a significant curtailment of the Forest Service’s express authority to grant pipeline rights-of-way on “lands owned by the United States.” 30 U. S. C. §185(b). It also has striking implications for federalism and private property rights, especially given that Congress has used express language in other statutes when it has intended to transfer lands between agencies. Pp. 13–17.

911 F. 3d 150, reversed and remanded.

 Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Breyer, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, JJ., joined, and in which Ginsburg, J., joined except as to Part III–B–2. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kagan, J., joined.

1 Together with No. 18–1587, Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association et al., also on certiorari to the same court.